Fanon to Canon

Sometimes, popular fan ideas get adopted into the actual canon of a universe.   Maybe this is sometimes okay, but as often I think it tends to be silly . . . and I say this as someone who's had his work adopted into sci-fi canon.

In the interests of brevity, we'll focus on some stuff from Star Trek's Original Series.   The long pause of Trek in the 70s allowed the early fandom and novel writers to generate their own ideas with virtually nothing to stop them.   This included certain tropes that were either generated out of whole cloth or, at best, overblown, and other things that were somehow completely forgotten or ignored.


Star Trek under Roddenberry aimed toward believability -- explicitly -- even amongst the trappings of spaceships and rayguns.   Thus, while the characters are indeed iconic to us and, in-universe, can be very good, the 'reality' in the fictional universe is that these are real people with strengths and weaknesses. 

For example, a recent Discoverse Trek episode had folks from the post-TNG Discoverse era raving about Uhura and the languages she spoke, a bit of old fanon that had also shown up in the JJ Abrams Kelvinverse.   It's not clear where this idea came from.   Uhura spoke English and her native Swahili in the Original Series, but otherwise displayed no aptitude for languages . . . this was most notable in Star Trek VI, when she and the rest of the bridge crew were breaking out Klingon dictionaries and she was butchering pronunciations.  

A communications officer understanding language concepts helps, I'm sure, but her specialty could be anything from subspace transmission theory to antennae to encryption algorithms to department management.   In the age of reliable automated translators basically capable of reading the mind of a frickin' cloud, I'm not sure how much knowledge of multiple languages would be necessary as a qualification or expectation for a communications department head working on the bridge.   

Indeed, from that list of possibilities, we see her engaged in the technical things rather than linguistics in the Original Series.  She had the idea of a subspace bypass circuit in "Who Mourns...", and was the best person to execute it despite not having done such work in years, over and above any of Scotty's engineers.  She was also very familiar with the status of Romulan codebreaking in "The Deadly Years".

The Uhura of the Star Trek Original Universe wasn't a super-linguist.

Constitution Registries

Then there's the matter of Constitution Class registries.   This is long since a done deal and part of the Trek canon, but it still annoys me.

In early 1975, the Original Series was long-gone except in re-runs, the Animated Series had ended, and there was nothing on the horizon except for the conclusion of Blish's episode novelizations.  Even Franz Joseph's Star Fleet Technical Manual wouldn't land until November.   There was, in other words, very little Trek material available, and it was all open to lots more speculation than we have nowadays after decades more Trek canon has been made.  Thus, we had the fandom telling each other new stories and analyzing Trek as best they could via conventions and fan-published materials.   One such fan was Greg Jein, and an idea of his that circulated was submitted to a fanzine as an article.   That article was "The Case of Jonathan Doe Starship".  

At its most basic level, this was an article where a fan took two pieces of data (a list of ship name suggestions from The Making of Star Trek book and the NCC numbers on the wall at Starbase 12 in "Court Martial"[TOS1] and crammed them together in a way that knowingly made no sense.   I'm not going to speak ill of Jein, here, for his idea had to then be popularized and insisted upon elsewhere (paging Mike Okuda), but suffice it to say that even though Jein acknowledges that his thesis makes very little sense, it was nevertheless made.  

I'm not sure why Okuda picked this to go with over Franz Joseph's NCC assignments, especially considering that, even if there were issues with using Franz Joseph's material, Okuda had the option of making up whatever he wanted.   

Nevertheless, what ended up happening was that a random assemblage of NCC numbers on a wall chart was assigned to the Constitution Class ships, forever . . . and (by extension) the weird notion that most of a particular class of ship were at a single starbase and under repair simultaneously for no apparent reason.

We could excuse it completely had it been made earlier or argued differently . . . after all, the wall chart said "Star Ship Status" and the Enterprise plaque read "Starship Class", right?   That could've left ships like the Enterprise as the entire starship fleet, back when the distinction was made between mere spaceships and proper starships.   Alas, that wasn't the argument . . . it was knowingly assigning those numbers to ships like Enterprise even while knowing other ships existed. 

Now we're stuck with it.


Look, we're all going to keep drawing and teasing conclusions out of the material we have.  Put another way, fans of the Original Universe of Star Trek are going to squeeze that fruit for every bit of juice we can get out of it . . . every iota of information.   The trick is to make sure those conjectures are reasonable and based very carefully and rationally on the evidence itself, not some made up thing (popular or otherwise).    Just because something is "known" in the fan community doesn't make it true, and even if something is true in an alternate Trek universe that doesn't make it true in the Original Universe, even if the fanon thinks so.   

Stick to the facts . . . it's the only way not to get stuck in crap.

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